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GOP confirmation plan awaits nominee Roberts

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.thehill.com/thehill/export/TheHill/News/Frontpage/072005/confirmation.html July 20, 2005 GOP confirmation plan awaits nominee Roberts By Geoff Earle
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 19, 2005
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      http://www.thehill.com/thehill/export/TheHill/News/Frontpage/072005/confirmation.html

      July 20, 2005
      GOP confirmation plan awaits nominee Roberts

      By Geoff Earle

      The White House and Senate Republican leaders have
      assembled a special leadership structure that they
      hope will troubleshoot potential problems and ease
      confirmation of President Bush’s Supreme Court
      nominee, Judge John G. Roberts Jr., a conservative on
      the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia
      Circuit.

      The handful of Republicans who will fill the key
      positions in the confirmation fight met Thursday in
      Senate Majority Leader Frist’s (R-Tenn.) Capitol
      office, where they hashed out the roles each would
      play in the high-stakes process.

      In attendance was former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.),
      whom aides and members have begun referring to as the
      “sherpa” — the person tasked with guiding the nominee
      through numerous meetings with senators, as well as
      through Judiciary Committee hearings.

      Also present was former Republican National Committee
      Chairman Ed Gillespie, who will oversee political and
      communications strategy for the nominee and Judiciary
      Chairman Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Majority Whip
      Mitch McConnell (R-Tenn.), who will both play pivotal
      roles. Frist, GOP leadership aides and White House
      legislative-affairs staff also were in attendance.

      Bush was scheduled to announce his pick for the high
      court last night, after press time. But the various
      political tasks Republicans have assigned are designed
      to help any nominee. At the top of their agenda will
      be fending off an expected avalanche of attacks while
      keeping the heat on any Democrats who mount
      opposition.

      Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah), who attended last week’s
      meeting, said Thompson would fulfill a role played in
      the past by lobbyist Tom Korologos, now ambassador to
      Belgium. Korologos helped shepherd several members of
      the Supreme Court through the confirmation process.

      “I see Thompson as the current version of Tom
      Korologos,” said Bennett. “He provides institutional
      guidance.” Thompson, who served one term in the
      Senate, was a member of the Judiciary Committee and
      now is an actor on NBC’s “Law & Order,” will advise
      the nominee on how to address senators and what to
      say.
      “The White House, very wisely, said, ‘We’ve got to
      have somebody who knows the Senate,’” Bennett said,
      commenting on Thompson’s selection.

      Bennett raised the hypothetical example of the
      president nominating a brilliant female legal scholar.
      Even so, he said, “You throw her into the meat grinder
      without a sherpa? You’re out of your mind.”

      An administration official described Gillespie’s role
      as more overarching, encompassing communications,
      strategy and fast response. Bennett said Gillespie’s
      role was “to prevent the conservatives from having the
      Bork experience replayed.” In an episode that still
      upsets conservatives, Robert Bork, a Ronald Reagan
      nominee, failed to be confirmed after enduring
      withering criticism from Democrats.

      “We’re not going to let that kind of thing happen,”
      Bennett said. “There’s going to be plenty of
      pushback.”

      Senators confirmed that Frist has tapped McConnell to
      spearhead floor confirmation of the nominee.
      McConnell, a lawyer and former Judiciary Committee
      member, has been through countless partisan battles on
      the floor as party whip. He is expected to succeed
      Frist as leader after he retires in 2006.

      Said Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) of McConnell, “He
      understands the politics internally and on the
      outside. I think he’s a good choice, and I think he’ll
      do a great job.”
      “McConnell, as our whip, will clearly be at the focus,
      quarterbacking on the floor,” said Sen. George Allen
      (R-Va.), who noted that McConnell has good relations
      with the “Gang of 14” senators who negotiated a
      resolution to the standoff over the filibuster of
      judicial nominees.

      McConnell, though, has been circumspect about his
      role, even though its existence has already been
      reported.

      “We’ll be announcing that shortly,” he said yesterday.

      McConnell’s main job will be to keep close track of
      the strength of support for the nominee among members
      of the Senate. His office will track any concerns that
      GOP members wish to raise.

      The newly created roles would appear to diminish the
      roles that typically would be played by Frist and by
      the White House staff. Aides said the president’s
      legislative-affairs staff will also keep close track
      of where the votes are while consulting with the
      whip’s office and other leadership staff.

      Aides said Frist will have his hands full conducting
      the Senate’s normal business — one reason he tapped
      McConnell to assist him. But Frist also has chosen to
      avoid the limelight on some other issues, allowing the
      Gang of 14 Republicans and Democrats to negotiate
      their own solution to the judicial filibusters.

      Frist likely will remain the first point of contact
      with the White House when the nomination is discussed,
      and Thompson, his Tennessee colleague, will continue
      to keep him informed of developments as they arise.

      One Frist aide described the majority leader as the
      person ultimately holding the strings in the
      leadership structure, comparing him to past Senate
      leaders. “If you look at Bob Dole and George Mitchell,
      he’s the master of the game,” the aide said.

      Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.),
      meanwhile, will have a central role in steering the
      nominee through his committee. Specter attended a
      meeting at the White House on Monday evening, although
      he declined yesterday to disclose whether he knew whom
      the president would nominate.

      “Specter was at the heart of the Bork fight, and
      Specter was at the height of the Clarence Thomas
      fight,” Bennett said. “He’s got a few more battle
      ribbons on there than anybody.”

      Lott said yesterday afternoon that he thought Bush
      would appoint a woman, adding that it “smells like”
      Bush might appoint Judge Edith Brown Clement of the
      5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He said Clement
      might be a “little bit” more moderate than some other
      candidates but defended her as a reliable
      conservative. “Just because she hasn’t written
      extensively, or spouted off extensively, that might
      not mean she’s a blank slate,” he said.

      Lott, who came under pressure for participating in
      negotiations with the Gang of 14, also had a message
      to outside groups that have already geared up for a
      major fight on the nomination. “I hope that groups on
      both sides would shut up,” he said.

      Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) suggested
      that the White House had decided to announce the
      nominee as a way to shift the subject away from
      negative attention about White House Deputy Chief of
      Staff Karl Rove, who has come under increased
      scrutiny.

      Reid said that how quickly the Senate acts depends on
      what type of person the president nominates. He said
      that if the president nominates someone who is
      noncontroversial, there is not reason Judiciary could
      not hold hearings in early September. But he added,
      “We don’t lose anything if it slips a little bit,”
      since Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has said she will
      stay on the court until her successor is confirmed.
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